Tory budget a disappointment, national Inuit leader says
Nunavut MP responds by pointing to “very hard” work with northern governments
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s budget for 2012-13, tabled March 29 in the House of Commons, does not impress Mary Simon, the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.
In a statement, ITK said the Conservative government budget does not propose any spending in three priority areas that ITK listed in pre-budget consultations: Inuit education, Inuit mental wellness, and Inuit housing.
“We know that, at a time of cutbacks, new moneys are hard to find. But the severity of the social and economic challenges by our communities and families does not allow us to think that continuing the status quo will deliver real progress,” Simon said March 29 in an ITK press release.
Simon said she welcomes new spending in the budget for education and safe drinking water on First Nations reserves, but said she wanted to see more for Inuit education and mental health services.
“There is a notable lack of mental wellness treatment capacity for Inuit throughout the Arctic, including conspicuous gaps in the area of addictions and substance abuse treatment,” ITK’s press release said.
Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq responded, however, by saying she works “very hard” with the regional leaders, including Government of Nunavut officials, who deliver those services to Inuit.
“We have to respect the fact that there are elected people responsible for those areas,” Aglukkaq said in an interview.
She also pointed to the $11 million in basic adult education funding for Nunavut Arctic College that Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced this past February in Iqaluit.
And Aglukkak also said Health Canada will install offices in Iqaluit, Yellowknife and Whitehorse to provide information about federal health programs and direct support in areas like epidemiology.
She said transfers from Ottawa to the three territories under the territorial formula financing agreement and the Canada social transfer remain untouched.
The federal Department of Finance estimates that in 2012-13, the TFF will put $1.27 billion into the coffers of the Nunavut government, amounting to $37,954 for every man, woman and child in the territory.
Smaller transfers for health, social services and post-secondary education contribute even more.
Aglukkaq said her government believes Flaherty’s budget will foster stable economic growth for Canada, protecting the country at a time when the global economy is still fragile.
The federal budget, which trims spending by $5.2 billion and proposes to eliminate 19,200 federal civil service jobs, turned out to be less harsh than many observers feared.
Most of those job cuts will occur in Ottawa, with a minimal impact in other parts of the country.
Here are some highlights from Flaherty’s budget:
• a plan to cut red tape and streamline regulatory processes for big resource projects, including mines and other projects in northern Canada;
• $5.2 billion over 11 years to “renew” the Coast Guard fleet, including new vessels and repairs to existing vessels;
• developing the Canadian High Arctic Research Station at Cambridge Bay, using part of an $84-million commitment to Arctic science;
• completion of the transfer of “Arctic ports” to Nunavut and Northwest Territories, which will save about $80 million a year by 2015;
• continuation of a program to forgive student loans for family doctors and other health professionals who agree to work in rural or remote communities, including Inuit communities;
• $12.3 million over two years to continue to assess diamonds in the North;
• elimination of the Katimavik youth volunteer program;
• the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy will be cut, for a saving of about $5 million a year;
• gradual increase in the age of eligibility for the Old Age Security benefit from 65 to 67 years, starting in April 2023, affecting people who are now 54 or younger; and,
• elimination of the penny within two years.
The $5.2 billion spending reduction amounts to 6.9 per cent of the $75.3 billion in discretionary spending available for cuts, and about two per cent of spending estimated for 2016-17.
The projected federal deficit for 2011-12 now stands at $24.4 billion, $6.6 billion less than what Flaherty announced in his economic update this past fall.
That deficit will fall to $22.2 billion in 2012-13, and will be wiped out by 2016-17, when Flaherty projects a $1.9 billion surplus.
Federal government spending will continue to rise however, but at lower rate of increase than in the years since 2006.
Total federal spending — on programs, transfers to individuals and other governments, and debt servicing — will amount to $255 billion in 2012-13.
But by 2016, federal spending will rise to more than $300 billion, the finance department estimates.